Uniting Church in Australia President Mr Stuart McMillan has expressed disappointment that Labor may adopt boat turn-backs as part of its asylum seeker policy.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declared his support for boat turn-backs during an interview with ABC’s 7:30.
“Labor wants to defeat the people smugglers and we want to prevent drownings at sea,” Mr Shorten told 7.30.
“I can no longer escape the conclusion that Labor, if we form a government, needs to have all the options on the table.”
The policy reversal comes ahead of the Labor National Conference held in Melbourne this weekend. Mr Shorten’s push to incorporate boat turn-backs into Labor’s asylum seeker policy is expected to face stiff opposition from the party’s left faction. Federal Labor MPs such as Andrew Giles and Anna Burke have publicly stated their opposition to boat turn-backs.
Mr McMillan said boat turn-backs undermine the development of a genuinely regional protection solution.
“We have been calling on the government to stop boat turn-backs and are extremely disappointed to hear that the ALP may be taking on this policy,” Mr McMillan said.
“We believe that the only way to stop people getting on boats is to ensure that they are safe where they are. Turning back the boats does nothing to improve Australia’s reputation in the region and undermines the work that needs to be done to find a truly regional solution that protects vulnerable asylum seekers.”
The Uniting Church adopted a new refugee and asylum seeker policy titled Shelter from the Storm at the 14th Assembly last week.
The policy affirms the Church’s commitment to advocate for refugee and asylum seeker rights and condemns the policy of boat turn-backs.
“Under international maritime law it is illegal to stop boats in international waters and then forcibly transport these boats or their passengers through international waters without their informed consent,” the statement said.
“Forced tow-backs and military escorts out of Australian waters also contravene our obligations under the Refugee Convention.”
The Justice and International Mission unit is calling on Uniting Church members to contact their local Labor MP and Senators ahead of the National Conference this weekend. This year’s conference is the first time in several decades that no single faction controls a majority of delegates and voting on boat turn-backs is predicted to be tightly contested.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has an email template that supporters can use to message their local Labor MP and Senator.
Image by Adrian via Flickr.